The first year of President Bush's second term, 2005, could be a pivotal year for senior citizens and their advocates. "I really didn't come here to hold the office, just to say, 'Gosh, it was fund to serve.' I came here to get some things done," Bush said yesterday in his first post-election press conference. Many of the initiatives at the top of the administration's list will put vital interests of seniors into play.
Against the background of preparation for implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act, the Medicaid entitlement surely will be brought into question again. With Chief Justice Rehnquist gravely ill, it is clear that the President's judicial nominations will be of great importance. In this and future weeks, we will survey and consider the agency as it may affect seniors.
The president said, "We'll start on Social Security now," identifying social Security 'reform' or 'overhaul' as priority. More than 47 million U.S. citizens receive Social Security benefits. There can be little dispute as to the need to review and fine tune such a massive and important program.
Social Security benefits were not designed to make anybody rich, but this social protection program is this country's primary guard against the most severe, grinding poverty for our elderly population. Fully 20 percent of Americans age 65 and older rely on Social Security payments as their sole source of income. In the 1930's, before establishment of the Social Security program, the elderly were far more likely than other age groups in this nation to live in poverty. More than one-third were impoverished. Younger people looked at the state of their elderly mothers and fathers, and saw a national disgrace. There were appalled.
Social Security was the remedy and it was effective. Now, only about 10 percent of our elderly population is below the poverty line, a figure considerably lower than the poverty level of our general population. So, Social Security is important. There is no reason to doubt that the elderly would again become the poorest and most desperate and helpless portion of our population if Social Security were taken away or if benefits were greatly reduced.